My dear brother,
Thank you for your kind letter and the portrait of Jo, which
is very pretty and a very successful pose. Now look, I'm going
to be very straightforward in my reply and as practical as
possible. First, I categorically reject what you say, that I
must be accompanied the whole way. Once on the train, I will be
quite safe, I am not one of those who are dangerous -
I have just said the same thing to M. Peyron, and I pointed
out to him that attacks like the one I have just had have
invariably been followed by three or four months of complete
calm. I want to take advantage of this period to move - I must
move in any case, my intention to leave is now unshakeable.
I do not feel competent to judge the way disorders are
treated here. I don't feel like going into details - but please
remember that I warned you about 6 months ago that if I had
another attack of the same kind I should wish to change
asylums. And I have already delayed too long, having allowed an
attack to go by in the meantime. I was in the middle of my work
then and I wanted to finish the canvas I had started. But for
that I should no longer be here. Right, so now I'm saying that
it seems to me that a fortnight at most (although I'd be
happier with a week) should be enough to prepare the move. I
shall have myself accompanied as far as Tarascon - even one or
two stations further on, if you insist. When I arrive in Paris
(I'll send a telegram on leaving here) you could come and pick
me up at the Gare de Lyon.
Now I should think it would be as well to go and see this
doctor in the country as soon as possible, and we could leave
the luggage at the station. So I should not be staying with you
for more than, let's say, 2 or 3 days. I would then leave for
this village, where I could stay at the inn to begin with.
What I think you might do one of these days - without delay
- is to write to our future friend, the doctor in question,
“My brother greatly desires to make your acquaintance,
and preferring to consult you before prolonging his stay in
Paris, hopes that you will approve of his coming and spending a
few weeks in your village in order to do some studies; he has
every confidence in reaching an understanding with you,
believing that his illness will abate with a return to the
north, whereas his condition would threaten to become more
acute if he stayed any longer in the south.”
There, you write him something like that, we can send him a
telegram the day after I arrive in Paris, or the day after
that, and he would probably meet me at the station.
Also the work is pressing, and I should be wasting my time
here. Why then, I ask you, are you so afraid of accidents?
That's not what should be frightening you. Heavens above, every
day since I've been here I've watched people falling down, or
going out of their minds - what is more important is to try and
take misfortune into account.
I assure you that it's quite something to resign oneself to
living under surveillance, even if it is sympathetic, and to
sacrifice one's liberty, to remain outside society with nothing
but one's work as distraction.
This has given me wrinkles which will not be smoothed out in
a hurry. Now that things are beginning to weigh me down too
heavily here, I think it only fair that they should be
brought to an end.
So please ask M. Peyron to allow me to leave, let's say by
the 15th at the latest. If I wait, I shall be letting the
favourable period of calm between two attacks go by, and by
leaving now, I should have the time I need to make the
acquaintance of the other doctor. Then if the illness does come
back in a little while, it would not be unexpected, and
depending upon how serious it is, we could see if I can
continue to be at liberty, or if I must settle down in a
lunatic asylum for good. In the latter case - as I told you in
my last letter, I would go into a home where the patients work
in the fields & the workshop. I'm sure I'd find even more
subjects to paint there than here.
So remember that the journey costs a lot, that it is
pointless [to provide an escort], and that I have every right
to change homes if I wish. I am not demanding my complete
I have tried to be patient up till now, I haven't done
anybody any harm, is it fair to have me accompanied like some
dangerous animal? No, thank you, I protest. If I should have an
attack, they know what to do at every station, and I should let
them get on with it.
But I'm sure that my nerve will not desert me. I am so
distressed at leaving like this that the distress will be
stronger than the madness. So I'm sure I shall have what nerve
M. Peyron won't commit himself, because he doesn't want to
take the responsibility, he says, but that way we'll never,
ever, get to the end of it, the thing will drag on and on, and
we'll end up by getting angry with each other. As for me, my
dear brother, my patience is at an end, quite at an end, I
cannot go on, I must make a change, even if it's only a
However, there really is a chance that the change will do me
good - the work is going well, I've done 2 canvases of the
newly cut grass in the grounds, one of which is extremely
[Here was drawn a sketch of "Tree trunks."]
Here is a hasty sketch of it - a pine trunk, pink and
purple, and then the grass with some white flowers and
dandelions, a little rose bush and some other tree trunks in
the background right at the top of the canvas. I shall be out
of doors over there. I'm sure that my zest for work will get
the better of me and make me indifferent to every thing else,
as well as put me in a good humour. And I shall let myself go
there, not without thought, but without brooding over what
might have been.
They say that in painting one should look for nothing more
and hope for nothing more than a good picture and a good talk
and a good dinner as the height of happiness, and ignore the
less brilliant digressions. That may well be true, so why
shouldn't one seize the hour, particularly if in so doing one
steals a march on one's illness?
A good handshake for you and Jo. I think I shall do a
painting for myself after the portrait, it may not be a
resemblance, but anyway I'll try.
See you soon, I hope - and come on now, spare me this
imposed travel companion.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 37 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 4 May 1890 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 631.
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